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FOG! Chats With Janelle Asselin About Resurrecting Romance Comics With FRESH ROMANCE

Interview Conducted by Stefan Blitz

With the rise of digital distribution, comic genres long abandoned by the industry are finding new audiences with new work created by passionate writers and artists.  Romance comics, once a vital part of the comic industry, have long ceased regular publication.

Fortunately, Janelle Asselin bringing them back through her company Rosy Press, and her Kickstarter for Fresh Romance, a new monthly, digital comics anthology that has already surpassed it’s goal and is a short way from reaching it’s final stretch goal, giving it’s participating creators a 30% pay bump.

A former editor at DC Comics, Disney Publishing Worldwide, and Sideshow Collectibles, Janelle was also the Senior Editor of ComicsAlliance.com and is now focused on bringing romance comics into the 21st century with Fresh Romance.

Janelle took some time to discuss the genre, the anthology and share her thoughts on women in comics (both as readers and creators).

Issue 1 Cover by Kevin Wada

FOG!: Congratulations on the success of your Kickstarter! What was the genesis of Fresh Romance?

Janelle Asselin: I wanted to offer some interesting romance comics that could attract a diverse audience, but I didn’t want to do just a one-off anthology (although those are great) or just one ongoing comic (although those are also great). I looked at the model of comics in Japan, where manga is serialized before it’s collected, and I thought it would be neat to combine that with the romance comics that used to exist in America and spin it into something new and modern. Thus, Fresh Romance.

Are you a fan of romance comics? It’s a genre that hasn’t been really active in some time and certainly based on the response there’s an interest in it. Why do you think there hasn’t been a romance title published regularly for some time?

Character designs by Sarah Winifred Searle

I am a fan, although a newish fan. I have loved romance manga for quite some time – I got really into shoujo and josei manga in the early 2000s – but my interest in American romance comics really came about in the last few years.

I started researching women in comics and the history of comics and saw what a huge role romance comics had played for well over a decade. It was fascinating to me that, along with some of the more shocking genres like horror and crime, romance also got diluted and eventually faded away after the Comics Code Authority was created. There was no way, with the CCA rules, that romance comics would be able to evolve into the modern world, which is why they died out in the 70s. 

After that, super heroes reigned supreme and I think it was just risky to take a gamble on a genre that was so firmly aimed at women readers. The industry is shifting, though, and readers seem interested in diverse genres again.

Can you tell us a bit about some of the talent that you’ve lined up for Fresh Romance?

We have so many amazing creators. Our launch teams are Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, and Savanna Ganucheau; Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, and Amanda Scurti; and Sarah Vaughn and Sarah Winifred Searle. We also have a bunch of creators lined up beyond that, including Spike Trotman and Marguerite Bennett, whose stories don’t have artists yet, and teams made up of Marcy Cook and Maya Kern and Jen Van Meter, Kyle Latino, and Marissa Louise.

Plus, if we hit out $47,500 stretch goal, all one-year subscribers will get an additional 10-page story from Gail Simone and Rafaela Herrera.

There have been several female centric anthologies such as Action Girl, Womanthology and Girl Comics, and there has been a lot of coverage in comics on the rise of female talent in the industry. One friend of mine, who’s an established female creator, told me that she didn’t particularly care for the “segregation” of talent by gender. Do you think that identifying someone as a great female writer versus a great writer is a benefit or hindrance?

I don’t particularly care for the segregation either, to be honest. You’ll notice that Fresh Romance
is NOT a women-only anthology, but I do want to always have at least
half of our creators be women just to offer greater representation to
underserved groups. I also try to avoid “women in comics” panels that
have no other purpose BUT featuring women in comics (like, a panel made
up entirely of women with a different topic = totally cool).

Character designs by Arielle Jovellanos

That being said, I write a column called Hire This Woman, and I find that until things are a little more even, there has to be some methods of pushing women forward into the spotlight they deserve. It’s so easy for editors to continue hiring the people they’ve always hired, which is primarily men, and without some people shouting “hey, look at these women, they make comics too!” I worry that they’ll continue to get ignored. When our industry is a little more equal, I think we can focus on making sure that women who are creators are not praised based on their gender but rather based only on their talent.

You were the focus of a very ugly reaction based on a negative (and quite accurate) critique that you gave to a comic book cover. The results were ugly; shockingly misogynistic and frightengly threatening. As a fan, former editor at DC, and now publisher, what does that say about our industry?

It says that we have a long way to go, but that we’re being heard, for better or worse. I think the influx of women comics fans has touched a nerve in comics and we’re going to continue to see resistance but more importantly we’re going to continue to see change.

Do you feel that voice of the internet should adopt a mob mentality when it comes to art?
Of course not. Art is a subjective thing. That being said, just because one person thinks a piece of art is unobjectionable doesn’t mean that ten people can’t find it horribly offensive.

Whether they disagree with a creator’s work on their creator owned title or a variant cover isn’t appropriate for the current tone of the book isn’t any kind of group pressure to change something that they don’t like a dangerous thing?

Character designs by Sally Jane Thompson

Well, there are a few different things to point out here. One is that criticism does not equal “group pressure” towards change. Just because a group of people dislikes something and vocally says so doesn’t imply pressure to change that thing.

You also described two very different situations here. Pressuring a creator to change something on a creator-owned title is ridiculous – just don’t buy it, unless it’s illegal. But comics companies choosing to put covers on books that are tonally jarring and at odds with the desired audience of the book, when those companies are attempting outreach – why shouldn’t that desired audience tell the publisher that they hate that cover?

I think for so long in comics we’ve seen one audience being served and now that another audience is growing in size and power, the existing audience is confused and outraged that these newcomers dislike something that 5, 10, 15, or more years ago would’ve been just fine according to the majority. It doesn’t mean that previous covers didn’t have any problems.

And it doesn’t mean that other publishers don’t have problems. But the gateway comics of our industry are under increased scrutiny and require careful handling to bring in new readers that comics desperately needs.

Are there any particular dream contributors that you’d like to see participate in Fresh Romance?

There are MANY! I’m working on some, for sure, but I’d love to get some romance novelists like Julia Quinn or Eloisa James to write something, or an artist like Yoshitaka Amano.

Finally, what are you currently geeking out over?

I’m super excited that Game of Thrones just started up again! I was really resistant to the show and the books for a LONG time but now I’m all in. I just got a huge stash of 1970s romance comics that I’m excited to dive into. I’m also reading a book called America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, which is excellent. And Pitch Perfect 2 can’t come fast enough for me.

Fresh Romance Issue 2 Cover by Yanick Paquette
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